Nine year old girl captivates audience with tale of star stealing ogre, a rap-battling prince, and a quest to save bedtime.

And did I mention she’s my daughter? Yep, I’m one proud daddy. Years ago when Olivia was only four-years-old, she created a story about a meanie stealing the nighttime stars. In her story, a prince defeats the meanie and returns the stars to his princess, because without her stars, she couldn’t sleep. Her story idea was so well conceived that my wife and I didn’t believe she created it at first. We contacted her Pre-K teacher, grandparents, and Sunday school teacher to ask if they had shared a book or movie involving similar themes. Each person said they hadn’t.

In that moment, we knew Olivia’s imagination was beyond what we thought capable of a child her age. And being a writer, my wife prompted me to sit down with Olivia to tell her story.

And we did.

The end result is a children’s story called Ferdinand and the Stars in a Jar.  The tale begins when an ogre can’t sleep because stars are shining on his head, keeping him awake. He devises a plan to steal the stars, and thus sets the stage for a conflict of bedtime proportions.

Today, Olivia had an opportunity to share her story with classmates. To say the kids enjoyed the story is an understatement. They were hooked from the beginning and giggled at all the right moments. Several kids asked Olivia when the book would be out, because they wanted their copy now. This reaction touched Olivia’s heart in a huge way. My wife said when she picked her up from school, she was literally jumping up and down with joy. Man, talk about …

Melt.

My.

Heart.

Olivia is currently illustrating the story herself. The book will be published (fingers crossed) before the school year ends. My hope is that she will be able to give a copy to each classmate as a gift.

Anyway, if you’d like to read Olivia’s story I have included it below. Let me know what you think, and I’ll relay your messages personally to Olivia.

Yep, I know the author.

FERDINAND & THE STARS IN A JAR

Written by Olivia Douglas & her Daddy

From the day he was born, Ferdinand liked to sleep. The nasty old ogre slept from sunup to sunset, moonrise to moonfall. All he did was sleep. He slept so much his fingernails grew three feet long and the hair in his ears curled into braids. And when he slept, the darker the better. Not a nightlight in sight. So one evening when a light shone bright and peaked inside his castle’s walls, Ferdinand became angry.

“Argh!” the smelly ogre boomed as he climbed to his feet. He went to the window and threw back the curtain, before taking a peek. “What blasted light is keeping me awake?!”

A star twinkled high in the midnight sky.

“Argh!” Ferdinand yelled again. He covered his eyes and stomped his feet. He threw the loudest tantrum the likes never seen. “The light! It is so bright! It is toooooo bright!” He looked at the star and growled beneath his breath, then he threw back the curtain and snuggled into to bed.

But the light kept shining right on his head.

“Argh,” he bellowed, deep and with a burp. “That star has made me ANGRY!” He crawled out of bed and stomped around his room, asking himself, “What to do? What to do?” He scratched a wart on his chin. “I can’t sleep.” He picked a booger from his nose. “I can’t think.” He ate it. “I can’t think when I can’t sleep.”

But then Ferdinand saw a glass jar on his bedside table. The ogre snatched it up and stalked to the window, glanced back and forth between the jar and the star.

Jar. Star. Jar. Star.

“I kow what I’ll do,” Ferdinand finally said to a shoe. “I’ll capture that star, and put it in this jar. Then I’ll bury it deep, so it can’t make a peek.” But he couldn’t stop there. He’d have to capture them all if he were truly to get some rest. So Ferdinand went outside, which he rarely did, and traveled the world while collecting the stars. He scraped them out of the sky with his long fingernails, and flicked them into the bottom of the jar. Scrape and flick. Scrape and flick. Until the stars in the jar created a glare so bright, Ferdinand had to wear sunglasses to block the light. He grew tired, but he couldn’t rest, not until he’d captured …

Every.

Last.

Star.

Now, legend says that when he removed the last star from the night sky the whole world conked out and never woke up.

Hah, whatever.

Here’s what really happened: Ferdinand went back home, simple as that, and put the jar of stars under his bed so the light wouldn’t shine on the top of his head. And after he had fallen fast asleep, he happily dreamed of stink-farts and pop-tarts and the smells of his dirty feet.

Now far away, many towns and rivers and forests away, a princess awoke in the dark. “What happened to my night light?” said Ophelia, rubbing her eyes. She sat up and went to the window. “What happened to all the stars?”

“Hey, baby!” called Prince Claudius, with a wide-brim hat and mad-skillz when he rapped. Why just last week in a rap-battle with Motha-Goose, he impressed with his rhymes as he quoted Dr. Seuss. “An ogre came at night, and has stolen all the light. So I’m head’n to his castle, to give him a good hassle. But don’t you worry now, or wrinkle your fine brow. I’ll return after battle, to give you back your dazzle. Chica-chica, yeah.”

Princess Ophelia giggled. Prince Claudius bowed. And with coolness and courage and clever ideas, he whipped the reigns of his horse –which was named Star, go figure –and headed toward the north to try and retrieve the stolen light.

Hours passed. No one could sleep. Save Ferdinand, of course, who kept everyone awake with his wheezing nostrils.

Squo-ha-ha-honk, shee-hee-hee-ooo!

Squo-ha-ha-honk, shee-hee-hee-ooo!

He snored with such racket and ruckus that everyone wore earplugs and shouted to be heard. Until the prince entered his bedroom, not uttering a word.

Claudius studied Ferdinand sleeping in his bed. He was pretty gross – well, what do you expect? He’s an ogre! – and tried to find the stars. A light sparkled from underneath the mattress. Hmmm, the prince thought with a tip of his hat. I’ll just time the ogre’s snores as I sneak in like a cat.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

He put in some earplugs, and tip-toed into the room.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

The earplugs slipped out, and the prince’s ears rang.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

He reached up under the bed, and felt a smooth, round jar.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

Then …

Whack!

Wink!

Those ogre eyes popped open, and Claudius froze so he would not be seen.

“Argh,” Ferdinand yawned. “Is that you, momma?”

The prince made his voice rough and deep.“Uh-uh-yeah, baby, momma’s here for you. Just lay back and rest a bit, I know just what to do. I’ll rap you a lullaby, filled with all you love. So close your eyes and get some sleep, you flea-bitten dove. Chica-chica, yeah.”

And so the prince did. He rapped booger raps and danced booger jives, told fart jokes and squirted fart sighs. He built an ogre cradle that smelt of toe-jam jelly. He made a makeshift paci and rolled him on his belly. Then he grabbed the jar of stars and hid them under his hat. He tip-toed to his horse and fled in no time flat.

Well, Claudius kept his word. And in two shakes of a billy-goat’s gruff, the prince shook the jar of stars and untwisted the top.

Alla-bam! Light spewed out like soda from a can, and …

Alla-beep! The stars returned to heaven for all the world to keep.

Later that night, something woke the princess. Tap! Tap! Tap! Someone was throwing pebbles at her bedroom window. Ophelia crawled out of bed and went to take a look. Claudius stood there smug, with a jar full of bugs.

“I’ve returned with your dazzle,” the prince said with a grin, as he nodded to the sky. Ophelia glanced right up and couldn’t help but smile. Then he held up a jar of yellow-glowing fireflies.“And a nightlight for your bedside desk, so you’ll never wake again distressed. Chica-chica, yeah.”

Princess Ophelia sighed. And, despite the eventful evening – and the smelly ogre’s feet – the two lived happily ever after.

But what happened to Ferdinand, you ask? Well, that nasty ogre could no longer get out of bed, stuck in his cradle with a light shining on his head. He tossed and he turned and he hid beneath his pillow, with his hiney in the air like a burrowing armadillo.

Advertisements

One agent down. 99 more to go.

Well, day one is complete for my 100 literary agent challenge. I sent my novel Medical MECH to agent Nancy Gallt. Her submission process was a little different than others will be. I didn’t send an actual query letter. Instead, I completed the textboxes on her submission page, which included the first 2,000 words of my story, an author bio, that sort of thing. One interesting aspect of her submission process was that she wanted to know what my character would say on behalf of my story. Kind of neat.

Anyway, tomorrow I plan to contact my second literary agent. The goal is to contact 100 agents by the end of 100 days. I hope along the way I’ll have an agent or three request to read the manuscript. But if not, hey, that’s the way the game is played. I won’t give up. I’ll simply revisit my work and try and make it better.

I’ll keep you posted.

Psalm 20-4

One agent. Per day. For 100 days.

That’s the plan. And it begins tomorrow. For the next 100 days, I plan to send query letters and sample chapters to 100 literary agents. My hope is that I’ll be able to secure an agent for my middle grades adventure novel, Medical MECH.

So what will this plan look like?

Well, I exercise six days a week. I write almost daily. So why can’t I devote time to getting an agent each day, too? The answer is simple. It takes work. Researching agents who represent my genre, learning how they want work submitted, and contacting them requires a substantial amount of time. A couple weeks ago while I was squeezing in a thirty minute workout, I thought: Wow, if I can devote time to my health every day, then I should be able to carve time from my busy schedule to send out my work. So here we go.

Tomorrow marks day one. I plan to send Medical MECH to literary agent Nancy Gallt. She represents one of my literary heroes, Rick Riordan–the author of the New York Times bestselling book series for kids, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Nancy is one of the most successful agents in the business of books. She knows quality work when she sees it. And if I’m going to seek representation, I might as well start at the top. Is Medical MECH up to her standards? I believe so, but I also understand the reality of what I’m about to face.

Rejection.

In the next 100 days, I must steel my emotions for rejection. Most of it won’t be personal. It’s just business. Agents need to make a buck. I believe Medical MECH can make them money, but my challenge is convincing agents I’m worth the risk. Regardless, being told you’re not good enough hurts. Does knowing I’ll be told this make the process any easier? I don’t think so. It just means I have realistic expectations going in.

I’m filled with hope. A little bit of fear. But wish me luck, because I’m about to embark on a 100 day journey that could potentially change my life…and if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. At least I’ll know I took life by the reigns and went for my dreams.

And that’s the biggest lesson here. Go for your dreams, no matter how lofty they may be. I’m going for mine. Are you?

Master Class Pen Pal

Pen Pals

Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been awhile since my last blog post, but the school year is in full swing and I’ve begun a new novel: Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. The book is coming along great. It might be my best yet. The suspense grabs you by the throat in chapter 1 and doesn’t let up. The hard part is trying to keep the thrills coming, though. Keeping my fingers cross all my hard work pays off. I hope to secure an agent for it once it’s ready.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on my Master Class lessons with James Patterson. I’m nearly through with the class. I’ve only got about 5 more lessons to go. The process has been super helpful in making Maddie Jones a page turner.

Something neat has happened through Master Class, too. The Site has a forum where writers can share their work. I posted the first Maddie Jones chapter, and wouldn’t you know it, I struck up a friendship with a Canadian author who is also working on a middle school novel. I shared a few chapters online, but I didn’t want to keep posting them in such a public place, so through my author website here, we were able to exchange emails. Now we’ve been sharing work back and forth, providing tips and insights for each other. It’s been a lot of fun to have someone read each chapter as they’re finished. Several critiques have even influenced me in the direction Maddie’s story has gone–particularly with the pacing, keeping the action going, that sort of thing. What’s really great is that we are both targeting our work to the same audience. I attend a lot of critique groups here locally, but there aren’t many people who write my genres.

Anyway, that’s what has been going on with me since my last post. I have a lot going on in the very near future, like the release of a new novel, Creative Con, and I’ll be a guest author for the Bay County Public Library on November 2. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know specifics as we get closer to the events.

Outlining vs. Free Writing

Writing Picture

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. I spent the morning with the kids at the beach. We had a lot of fun building sand castles and swimming. Now the kids are napping, and I’m sitting down to write the final chapters of Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Well, I’m not really writing the final chapters, just outlining a first draft. I’m excited how the story has turned out so far. Maddie’s first adventure is an archaeological thrill ride filled with history, suspense and twists, a few laughs and, I hope, likable characters and detestable villains.

In the past, I have recruited test readers to give me feedback on my manuscripts. For the first novel in the Maddie Jones series, I might recruit test readers to critique my outline. We’ll see. I’m not sure at the moment. It would be a strange process, but the outline reads like an abbreviated version of the story. My outlines aren’t typically so put together, but I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson. He devoted two whole lessons to the outlining process. Patterson calls outlines his “secret weapon.” He typically spends two months on an outline before he sits down to write the novel. By having a solid outline filled with suspense and the right amount of pacing, he’s able to write a story that draws you in and makes you keep turning pages.

I got to say, after creating the first Maddie Jones book in this way–outlining the story from start to finish, scene by scene–I will likely never write another story like I did before. With my previous novels and short stories, I often wrote a brief outline, then filled in the gaps with free writing as I went. James Patterson says, “Don’t do this.” He believes your story won’t be as suspenseful and engaging if you go in blind; or, as in my case, partially blind.

Now, I know there is no right or wrong way to tell a story. There are writers out there who will disagree with Patterson. But have they sold 300 million copies of their books? Um, more than likely not. If you want to be successful, I believe you should learn from the best and emulate what they did. I am now convinced thorough outlining is effective. It frees me to simply tell the story and not worry about flashy sentences. I can see why Patterson recommends it so strongly. Will his tips make me successful? Who knows. But Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors is a better story because of it.

Writers Don’t Get Downtime

Well, my next novel is currently in the hands of test readers. A couple copies have trickled back in, and so far the kids are enjoying Medical MECH. Once I have everyone’s feedback, I plan to revisit the manuscript for rewrites and edits. Afterwards, I’ll send the story out to agents and keep my fingers crossed that it will get picked up. In the meantime, I’ve started my next project: The Adventures of Maddie Jones.

If you’ve ever read anything on writing, or heard a successful author answer this question: What should I do if I want to become a writer? They will almost unanimously say to write, write, and write some more. Read a lot, and read different genres. So that’s what I do. I rarely have downtime between projects. I finish one and immediately move on to the next. Although Medical MECH is nearing completion (well, it’s nearly complete as far as the manuscript is concerned. Publication is a whole other beast), I have ideas for new stories that are itching to be told.

My newest project is a five book series for young adult readers. The series name is The Adventures of Maddie Jones. Each book will follow Maddie as she journeys to uncover mysteries of the past. The stories will be thrillers told in a James Patterson style–short chapters and a fast-paced narrative. Maddie’s “voice” will be akin to Percy Jackson’s from The Lightning Thief. I’ve diligently been working on book one’s outline, and it’s coming along nicely so far. At the moment, I’m wrapping up the third act. The outline will take several edits and rewrites to make it a solid start, but I’m excited to begin writing once the outline is complete. If you’re curious, here are the individual titles for each book:

  1. Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors
  2. Maddie Jones and the Grave of Robin Hood
  3. Maddie Jones and the Doomed Knights of the Round
  4. Maddie Jones and the Ghost of Coronado
  5. Maddie Jones and the Inca Mummy of Ecuador

I’ve written the story synopsis for each book. For now, check out book one’s premise:

When business tycoon Rico Raja kidnaps Hank Jones, a museum curator who deciphered an ancient text involving the Terracotta Warriors, his teenage daughter Maddie must uncover the secrets behind the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth-century in order to save him. But when those secrets reveal a 2,000 year old curse, and Rico’s plan to release the soul of the First Qin Emperor of China, Maddie must seek allies in the unlikeliest of places—from a Terracotta Warrior who has come to life, General Li Fei. Perhaps Maddie should call the National Guard, or the Army, or the Ghostbusters, because things are getting out of hand.

What are your thoughts on this new project? Which book title draws you in the most? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

If you want to be a millionaire…

I once heard that if you want to be a millionaire, you should start thinking like one. Do what they do. Follow in their steps and you’ll be successful. Well, if it were that easy we would all be rich.

Although I wouldn’t turn down a million dollars, what I want is to be a successful writer. But if I’m going to make it–truly, truly make it–then I need to learn from the best. One of the authors I admire is Rick Riordan. He’s the creator of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for kids. Like me, Rick started out as a middle school teacher. I believe he taught science. I teach social studies. When he was working on his first young adult novel (you may have heard of it. A little known title called The Lightning Thiefhe decided to recruit students to read his work and give him feedback. His test readers were kids, the target audience he was writing for.

I’m excited to announce I have learned from the best. Tomorrow, six middle school kids will each get a copy of my young adult novel, Medical MECH. I can’t wait to hear what they think. And, most importantly, to use their feedback to make the book a potential bestseller.

Oh, if you can’t tell, I’m super optimistic about my novels being successful. Writers must be their greatest cheerleaders. There’s a lot of rejection out there, and not many people believe you’re going to make it. But that’s a message for another blog post.